Classical Music

Introduction

Table Summary

Summary of Classical Music (excluding opera)
Haydn symphonies (London Symphonies), chamber and solo works (string quartets)
Mozart symphonies (nos. 40, 41), concertos (wind, piano), sacred choral works (Requiem Mass), chamber and solo works
Beethoven nine symphonies (nos. 3, 5, 9), chamber and solo works (piano sonatas)

General Features

The aesthetic of classicism is defined by simplicity, clarity, and balance (see Western Aesthetics). In music, these characteristics are particularly evident in phrasing: whereas Baroque phrases tend to be relatively long and intricate, Classical phrases are short and simple. Classicism also manifests in the chord progressions, instrumentation, and overall form of Classical works.1

During the tonal era (ca. 1600-1900), Western art music was produced mainly within the framework of major-minor tonality (see Tonality). The core regions of Western music during the tonal era were Italy, Germany, France, and (starting in the Classical age) Austria. The latter nation was the very heart of the Classical period.

Multi-movement Works

From the Baroque age onward, a common feature of Western music is the multi-movement work, which consists of multiple self-contained works (each referred to as a "movement"). Movements typically vary in character (notably tempo), thus providing contrast throughout the work.

Standard Progression of Multi-movement Works
three-movement work fast slow fast
four-movement work dance

Multi-movement works of the Baroque and Classical periods tend to feature three or four movements. The standard progression in three-movement works is fast-slow-fast (i.e. two fast movements with a slow movement in between); in four-movement works, fast-slow-dance-fast. The "dance" movement is derived from the minuet (a triple-time French dance), and is often called "minuet", "minuet and trio", or "scherzo".I330

Form

Form denotes the overall structure of a self-contained musical work. The simplest type is strophic form, in which a single block of music is repeated multiple times. Theme-and-variation form is an embellishment of strophic form, in which each repetition is a variation upon the original block of music (rather than a copy).

Form is often represented with letters. Strophic form, for instance, can be represented as (A A A...). Theme-and-variation form is represented as (A A' A''...): apostrophes indicate that a section is a variation upon an earlier section.

Binary form consists of two distinct sections of music; its representation is (A B). Ternary form takes binary form and adds a repetition or variation of the first section; thus, its representation is (A B A) or (A B A'). Ternary form evolved from binary form. The transitional step in this evolution was rounded binary form, a special type of binary form in which material from the A section is reused late in the B section.

The Classical period witnessed the development of sonata form, which features three sections: exposition (in which the main themes are stated), development (in which the themes are expanded and explored in various ways), and recapitulation (in which the themes are restated). Sonata form can be described as a special version of rounded binary form: the A section contains the exposition, while the B section contains the development and recapitulation. Sonata form, which was typically used in the first movement of a Classical composition (and often other movements as well), remained popular throughout the Classical and Romantic periods.4

Works that have no form at all are known as through-composed (or "free-form").

Main Article

Primary Genres

In terms of scale, Western music can be divided into three types: solo, small ensemble (or "chamber"), and large ensemble.

Primary Genres of Classical Music
solo piano, violin
small ensemble various combinations of strings, winds, and/or piano
large ensemble orchestral symphony, concerto
vocal opera, sacred choral

Solo music of the Baroque and Classical periods was composed for many instruments, but especially keyboard and violin. A common term for "solo instrumental work" is sonata. (Note that "solo music" for a non-keyboard instrument usually features keyboard accompaniment.) The Classical age witnessed the rise of the piano as the primary keyboard instrument (and the corresponding decline of the harpsichord and clavichord).11

The diversity of instrument combinations in small ensemble works expanded markedly during the Classical period. Ensembles usually featured some combination of strings, woodwinds, and/or piano.

Large ensemble music can be classified as orchestral or vocal. The leading forms of orchestral music during the Classical era were the symphony and concerto, while large-scale vocal music was dominated by opera and sacred choral works (e.g. masses, oratorios).

Classical Music

ca. 1750-1820

As noted earlier, the heart of the Classical period was Austria. The composers who worked in Vienna during this period are sometimes referred to as the "Viennese school". The foremost Classical age composers are the three leading figures of this school: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven.

Franz Joseph Haydn is remembered primarily for his symphonies and string quartets. In the former, Haydn's primary body of work is the London Symphonies, a set of twelve symphonies composed during a visit to that city. His best-known string quartet is the Emperor Quartet, which features a melody that eventually became the German national anthem.

Classical music peaked in the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who excelled in every major genre of the age. He penned many famous symphonies (notably his final two symphonies, 40 and 41) and concertos (notably the Clarinet Concerto and various piano concertos). His foremost vocal work (outside of opera) is the Requiem Mass.I349

Classical music was succeeded by Romantic music, which is primarily concerned with vivid emotional expression. Romantic composers freely violated simplicity, clarity, and balance if it suited their expressive goals. Striking features of Romantic music are extensive chromaticism and unprecedented variation in dynamics and tempo.1

The great transitional figure between Classical and Romantic music is Ludwig van Beethoven, who excelled in most genres, especially the symphony and piano sonata. Of his nine symphonies, most famous are the Third (often cited as the founding work of Romantic music), Fifth, and Ninth (which includes the Ode to Joy chorus). Beethoven's five most renowned piano sonatas are Moonlight, Pathétique, Appassionata, Hammerklavier, and Waldstein.

Classical Opera

ca. 1750-1820
The Nine Most-Performed Opera Composers
Baroque Classical Romantic
Italian Handel Mozart (Donizetti, Rossini) > Verdi > Puccini
German Wagner > R Strauss
French Bizet

During the Baroque age, the two main branches of serious opera were Italian and French. Both approaches sought, in true Baroque fashion, to overwhelm the audience through overt spectacle (see Western Aesthetics): serious Italian opera focused on long, elaborate arias, while serious French opera was distinguished by grandiose staging, dance sequences, and choruses. Unfortunately, story was often neglected in serious Baroque opera, and consequently became shallow and formulaic.2

By the Classical period, a general weariness of Baroque opulence had developed, leading composers to infuse opera with the simplicity and directness of classicism. The elaborate features of Baroque opera were subdued in favour of clear communication of plot and emotion. Renewed attention was given to story, thus ensuring a more equal balance of drama and music.I310,2

The leading early figure of Classical opera was Christoph Gluck, who worked mainly in serious opera, composing in both Italian and French. His masterpiece, Orfeo ed Euridice, is considered the founding work of Classical opera.

Popularity of Classical Opera Composers (by performance runs, 2007-12)

The Baroque period, though dominated by serious opera, also witnessed the rise of comic opera. In the Classical age, comic opera surged ahead in popularity. The light-hearted atmosphere of comic opera is occasionally tempered with a measure of serious drama.I304

Comic opera of the Classical age was led by Mozart, one of today's three most-performed opera composers (along with Verdi and Puccini).12 His leading operatic repertoire consists of one German comic opera (The Magic Flute) and three Italian comic operas (Don Giovanni, Marriage of Figaro, and Cosi fan tutte). While the latter two works are mostly comic, the former two include major serious elements.7

Beethoven produced only one opera: Fidelio. Given that Beethoven embodies the transition between the Classical and Romantic ages, Fidelio stands as the foremost precursor to Romantic opera.

1 - "Western music", Encarta 2004.
2 - "Western music", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.
3 - "Opera", Columbia Encyclopedia. Accessed September 2010.
4 - "Sonata form", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.
5 - "Mannheim school", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.
6 - "Orchestra", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.
7 - "Opera", Encarta 2004.
8 - "Singspiel", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.
9 - "Scherzo", Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.
11 – “Piano”, Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed September 2010.
12 - "Statistics - Top Composers", Operabase.